‘Bring back Sky!’ Has Eleven Sports' debut really been that bad?

Golf News

The coverage of the PGA Championship drew predictable howls of derision in the merciless world of social media. But were the new TV kids on the block worthy of such abuse? Steve Carroll tries to take a dispassionate look

Those of us who work in the murky world of online know one indisputable truth – if you’re going to stick something on the internet you’d better get it right.

There are no end of eagle eyes waiting to gleefully – and rightfully – point out typos and errors of fact.

So Eleven Sports surely went in with their eyes open as their much-vaunted new channel launched in the high profile glare of Bellerive.

With Sky missing out on the rights and the BBC not taking up last year’s role as super sub, it’s the new venture of Leeds United owner Andrea Radrizzani which swept in to take the tournament completely online.

This was always going to polarise. For an online savvy audience, used to on-demand watching on Netflix, Amazon Prime, YouTube and the like, this is largely normal viewing.

Eleven Sports

But for those whose box-watching has been squarely focused on terrestrial or satellite, the shift has been seismic. And not, it appears, without some pain.

If you’ve ever watched people of a certain age trying to operate a cash machine, you can imagine the mental torture some have had trying to successfully navigate the sign up sheet on the Eleven Sports website.

The first two days are also being shown on Facebook and a quick run through the company’s recommendations page reveals there is plenty to do if they are to live up to their mantra of ‘For the Fans’.

There’s a glorious irony in people slagging off internet TV – while furiously typing into the internet to do it.

But is the bile justified? Let’s break it down…

For God’s sake get off to a good start

Oh dear. We were all waiting for the coverage to begin. And then we were still waiting.

The featured group – and a biggie at that of Tiger, Rory and JT – was supposed to kick off the new era but all we got was the side of a truck and a high pitched wail that sounded like the producer was adjusting their hearing aid.

Then there were the promos, interminable when you thought actual golf was going on, and the buffering.

I’m running 100mb broadband at home and it was stuck like a scratched CD. That’s when it actually loaded at all.

Eleven Sports apologised for “issues we are encountering with the feed from the US”. You can imagine how that went down.

Are these the viewing figures you are looking for?

One of the cool things about watching something on social media – be it Periscope, YouTube, Facebook or whatever – is that you can actually see how many people are tuning in with you.

A key criticism of Sky has been that it’s very restrictive, you can only watch with a paid subscription, and that slashes potential audience numbers.

Well, here, the PGA Championship is free. Log in to Facebook and the first two days are yours gratis, while you can watch the weekend on the Eleven Sports website and app without paying as long as you remember to bail out of your trial membership before a week has passed.

At 9.45pm, though, a peak of only 6,000 people were watching on the social media network.

I’ve seen more tuned into a chess match.

Why can’t we watch it on TV?

I’ve got this image in my head of whole families crowded round a tiny android phone desperately trying to trace a speck of white through the air.

A common complaint I saw was that you couldn’t watch the coverage on your TV because it either wouldn’t cast, or the mirroring was restricted.

But that wasn’t quite true. If you had ChromeCast you could put it on your room sized screen through the Facebook page and you also could do it through HDMI on your laptop and through an HDMI adaptor through your phone.

You could even do it through the app. I know, I tried. See how far that gets you with SkyGo when the Premier League kicks off tonight.

They aren’t the ones filming the coverage!

“Terrible coverage. Showing loads of coverage of golfers no one cares about. Terrible commentators.”

I’m going to come to Eleven Sports’ defence here.

The people showing you the pictures aren’t the ones filming them. Just as Sky do when they show the PGA Tour every week, they take the host broadcaster’s feed.

So you’re seeing every one of DJ’s shots because a director thousands of miles away has decided that’s what you are going to see.

There’s nothing Eleven Sports can do about it.

The presenters

We’ve been handed the dynamic duo of Anna Whiteley and Seb Carmichael-Brown to fill in the downtime – and as any regular viewer of TV stateside will know there’s plenty of that.

The pair were given a hospital pass by their production team just as the primetime evening session was getting underway.

“I can’t wait to see how they get on today,” they mused of Tiger, Rory and JT in a segment that had clearly been filmed hours earlier.

The problem was the trio had all just signed their cards in the scorer’s hut.

Eleven Sports

Sky fans will be very familiar with Whiteley, as she front’s IMG’s magazine programme Golfing World which goes out every Wednesday and she’s an experienced hand on the new tiller.

Carmichael-Brown, on the other hand, is Marmite.

He might manage a YouTube channel with 100,000 subscribers, but I watched some of his player interviews through my fingers. McIlroy looked perplexed as young Seb grilled him on his evening plans.

And it doesn’t matter how many times you hint, you’re not getting an invite to the Rickie, JT, Jimmy love-in.

Carmichael-Brown is the comedy partner to Whiteley’s straight woman. But they’re not quite Morecambe and Wise.

We’ve seen him blustering his way through weather forecasts and the merchandise tent. All we need now is his tour of the loos. Of course, none of this is his decision.

And there will be plenty who enjoy his calling players ‘mate’ approach, and his desire to ask a player a question that isn’t just about their tee shot on 17.

I could easily just be a grumpy old man about it. I’ll leave it to you to decide.

The verdict

What was it they say? Rome wasn’t built in a day. There’s plenty of work to do to stop the foundations caving in on this new venture.

Some of the criticism has been a bit over the top, and we do need to remember that we’re getting to watch a major for free.

But we’re used to our TV being very slick and polished and, at the moment, this isn’t quite there.

Today, though, is another day.

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